about the observatory

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The objective of the observatory of brazilian political and social elites is to bring together and assemble in a single virtual space, research projects and researchers, both national and international, who approach the subject from different perspectives – history, sociology, anthropology, theory and methodology – and who choose to privilege different dimensions of the analysis of elites: institutions, behavior, and culture.

The observatory aims contribute to the advancement of this field of studies in the country, bridging the gap between social scientists (in the broad sense), facilitating the exchange of information, enabling the integrated research and the formation of a common – and plural – field of study through the shared use of databases dedicated to the investigation of several topics related to the governing classes of Brazil: their social and professional attributes, recruiting patterns, behavior, ideology and values, as well as their connections to broad social structures and  political institutions. This site will also host and promote debates on the analytical effectiveness of the research methods commonly used in surveys, on the problem of the access to sources, on the quality of collected data and the categorization of data, etc.

The effort to transform the observatory of political and social elites in Brazil into a reference in the field and in fostering the integration and dissemination of databases also aims to contribute towards the undertaking of comparative studies, either among Brazilian sub-unities or with other countries.

You can send your work (papers, articles, etc.) or database for inclusion in our database to: oelites@gmail.com
First, click here to make your registration of your scientific research or database (in Portuguese).



academic network

The observatory of elites is the result of the accumulation of the efforts made in the last few years by several researchers and of the part of the Brazilian Political Science community with the aim of re-inscribing the subject in the discipline’s research agenda. This endeavor was developed and eventually gained momentum after the creation of the “Elites and political institutions” Working Group in National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Social Sciences (ANPOCS – Associação Nacional de Pós-Graduação e Pesquisaem Ciências Sociais). It also benefitted from the meetings among specialists in the periodical meeting of the Brazilian Political Science Association (ABCP – Associação Brasileira de Ciência Política) and of the Latin American Political Science Association (ALACIP – Associação Latinoamericana de Ciência Política).



elites and democracy

The majority of empirical theories of politics defines “democracy” simply as method of selecting a government. They highlight the process of choosing candidates by means of elections and the conformation of institutional arrangements which authorize and structure these choices. Elections are, in this system, almost the only form of controlling and punishing political agents and equality among citizens does not go beyond universal suffrage; one person, one vote, regardless of his or her social standing.

Given these premises, institutionalized democracy is a political regime which establishes an upper limit for participation, through the electoral vote, and for opposition. Democratic regimes are regimes that are broadly open to the public contestation of those who govern, regulated by legislation.

Robert Dahl listed the institutional guarantees that would, based on these ideas, make it possible to assess whether or not a given society is politically democratic. This list contains only eight items used in evaluating an institutionalized poliarchy: liberty of organization and association, liberty of expression, voting rights, eligibility rights, competition for public offices mediated through the vote, the existence of alternative sources of information, free and impartial elections, and governments capable of truly converting citizen preferences into decisions mediated by legitimately elected governments.

An evaluation of the Brazilian political system today according to these parameters would indicate (not without some controversy) that it sufficiently meets each one of them.

In addition to the issue of the diffusion of information and its sources, the fifth proposition, especially with regard to the social conditions which underline electoral competition, requires further testing. It would make it possible, for example, to determine the degree of inclusion of each different social group/class in the political elite.

This is an essential dimension of democracy which obviously, has no bearing on the formal criteria of eligibility (the legal definition of who can be elected and to which positions), but rather with the problem of can and who cannot accede to positions of powers: the informal interdictions, the social mechanisms of exclusions, the economic barriers, etc. Studies on the homogeneous or heterogeneous socio-professional profile of the elite groups are thus essential in order to discuss the political system per se, for instance, since they refer to the socially sanctioned structure of opportunities which filters those who participate in politics.

It is in this sense that researches on elites – and especially studies on the social origins of the political elites and their transformation in the course of time – become more important in characterizing the degree of democratization of the political system. This can be measured without necessarily referring, as usual, to more participative mechanisms in decision-making processes. This is an essential dimension in considering the quality of democracy.


Page last updated on 25 June 2012